Raab defends Afghanistan evacuation ahead of Westminster grilling

UK foreign secretary blames home office and ministry of defence for operational shortcomings

Dominic Raab: ‘In relation to the foreign office, we immediately, in April, told British nationals in Afghanistan to leave. We helped 2,500 to leave from that point to mid-August.’ Photograph: WPA/Getty

Dominic Raab: ‘In relation to the foreign office, we immediately, in April, told British nationals in Afghanistan to leave. We helped 2,500 to leave from that point to mid-August.’ Photograph: WPA/Getty

 

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab has defended his conduct of the evacuation from Afghanistan ahead of a grilling from MPs at Westminster on Wednesday.

Members of the cross-party foreign affairs committee are expected to be sharply critical of Mr Raab’s performance, which has been the subject of hostile briefings from within Boris Johnson’s government.

In a series of broadcast interviews, the foreign secretary rejected the criticism and sought to deflect blame for the operation’s shortcomings onto the ministry of defence and the home office, which handles visa applications.

Mr Raab said the British military, like their American counterparts, had underestimated the strength of the Taliban and the speed with which Afghan government forces would capitulate.

“The best central assessment was that you would see a slow deterioration from the end of the drawdown in September and that Kabul would not have fallen for several months,” he told the BBC. “The assessment was clearly wrong. That’s certainly not the foreign office’s lead responsibility.”

He blamed the home office, which is responsible for immigration, for thousands of unanswered emails from Afghans seeking permission to evacuate to Britain. 

Mr Raab remained on holiday in Crete as the Taliban advanced on Kabul, only returning to London two days after the Afghan capital had fallen. He has faced criticism for failing to prepare for the evacuation of thousands of British citizens and Afghans who had helped Britain during the Nato-led military campaign there.

“I don’t accept those charges. First of all, in relation to the foreign office, we immediately, in April, told British nationals in Afghanistan to leave. We helped 2,500 to leave from that point to mid-August. We stood up a crisis response team on August 15th; it was doubled within three days,” he said.

He rejected as “simply untrue” a report based on classified US military briefings which blamed Britain for keeping a gate at Kabul airport open ahead of last Thursday’s suicide bomb attack. 

Gate open

“We co-ordinated very closely with the US, in particular around the Isis-K threat, which we anticipated although tragically were not able to prevent, but it is certainly right to say we got our civilians out of the processing centre by Abbey gate, but it is just not true to suggest that other than securing our civilians inside the airport that we were pushing to leave the gate open,” Mr Raab said.

Some of the sharpest criticism of the US decision to leave Afghanistan by August 31st and Britain’s handling of the evacuation has come from Conservative MPs. Foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, a former military intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, won applause during a special sitting of the House of Commons last week when he spoke of his grief and anger as he watched the events unfolding.

Mr Tugendhat was one of a number of MPs to criticise the British decision to facilitate the evacuation of 200 dogs and cats by former royal marine Paul Farthing while Afghans who had helped British forces were unable to leave the country.

“We’ve got an NHS in the United Kingdom that taxes us all about one in seven pounds we spend. What would you say if I sent an ambulance to save my dog rather than your mother?” he told LBC.